The Timeless Taste Of Honey
Around 8,000 years ago, when Stone Age humans hunted woolly mammoths, they also dug into rock crevices and climbed trees in search of wild honey.
How can we possibly know this, without the written language that wouldn’t be developed for at least 2,000 years?
A cave painting near Valencia, Spain, shows a prehistoric hunter bravely pulling honey from a tree hive while angry bees swarm all around.
The history of honey is steeped in mythology, religion, and lore. But for all its mysteries, the thick and golden liquid itself remains unchanged – and unique.
Greek gods were said to feast on nectar and ambrosia, made from the honey that also appears in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the Qur’an, and in the religious practices of Buddhism and Hinduism.
Some of the earliest curative uses of honey included traditional Chinese medicine, and the Ayurvedic medicine that developed on the Indian subcontinent. The ancient Egyptians used honey to treat wounds. It’s hard to know if these healers could imagine the modern-day scientists who would investigate those early practices to document honey’s chemical and anti-microbial properties.
Medicine and mysticism aside, honey is simply delicious – which is actually rather odd, considering it’s made from a substance regurgitated by an insect.
The process is simple yet remarkable: Bees collect nectar from flowers, then bring it to the hive where fellow bees await to transfer the nectar with their mouths, add enzymes, and deposit the still-runny liquid that’s about 80 percent water into the cells that comprise the familiar honey-comb structure. The substance only takes on the viscous texture after evaporation has occurred, a process the bees control with mass, coordinated wing-flapping. When the moisture content is reduced to 17 – 18 percent honey as we know it results.
A single bee can visit more than 1,000 flowers on a single nectar-gathering trip. On average, it takes two million flowers to make one pound of honey. (Skeptics who wonder how such things are measured can read the research from the Canadian Honey Council and check out SciShow for videos about bees.)
Birds known as honeyguides display excited behavior that shows humans where to find wild hives. Once people open the hive and harvest the honey, the birds clean the debris left behind. Bears that raid hives will devour the entire honey-comb, but they also crave the bees and larvae that provide protein.
Now, we have global honey tourism, which is growing as aficionados seek to explore the locales and cuisines where honey plays a role. Earlier this month, the Guardian profiled Slovenia’s bee tourism. There are travel packages to Australia and New Zealand.
In Spain, back where that first cave painting depicted our willingness to brave the bee-stings in search of something sweet, tourists today can travel “La Ruta de la Miel” (the Honey Route) to learn about beekeeping and sustainability.
But we needn’t go far to understand – and enjoy – the value of bees and the honey they produce. Next time here at WFAEats, we’ll meet local folks who are practicing the art of keeping bees and harvesting honey. Until then, here are some sweet recipes to sample from the National Honey Board.
Honey Blueberry Bread with Cream Cheese Swirl
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Greek yogurt
Zest of 1 lemon
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries
8 oz. cream cheese
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Add the eggs, honey and sugar to a large bowl and cream together using a hand or stand mixer. Beat in the butter, vanilla, Greek yogurt and lemon zest.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour (reserving 1 teaspoon), baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet.
Toss the blueberries with the reserved teaspoon of flour and stir into the batter.
In a separate bowl, cream together the cream cheese, honey, sugar and salt until thoroughly combined.
Pour half the blueberry batter into a greased loaf pan. Spoon on the cream cheese mixture, top with the remaining blueberry batter and gently swirl with a butter knife. Bake for 50 - 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Phil’s Honey - Hot Pepper - Orange Marmalade
2 peels from large, ripe oranges
Fresh hot peppers*
8 oz. honey
Grate the two orange peels into a small sauce pan; add the honey and mix well. While holding each pepper by the stem, use sharp scissors to cut THIN cross sections (seeds and all) into the honey-orange peel mixture. Taste after adding each pepper, adding more if desired. Put pan on medium heat, stirring constantly. DO NOT ALLOW THE HONEY TO BOIL. When mixture is well-blended and thoroughly heated (just starting to steam), spoon it into a freshly washed glass jar and cover immediately. Once cool, it’s ready, and does not need refrigeration after opening.
*Fresh hot peppers: your choice of variety and quantity. Recommended: Serranos, Guam “Boonie Peppers,” or other small Asian peppers, maybe even a single, fresh Jalapeño.
This marmalade is very versatile as a spread, and also as a glaze or side garnish for roast poultry.
Recipes provided courtesy of the National Honey Board.